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Oregon Cannabis Association Lobby Day

By Matt Walstatter

Once a year during the legislative session, members of the Oregon Cannabis Association (OCA) descend on the state capital in Salem for a lobby day. This is our opportunity to engage with lawmakers, discuss pending legislation and share our hopes and concerns regarding a variety of issues that affect our industry.

This year’s lobby day fell on St. Patrick’s Day. More than 40 of the faithful OCA traveled to Salem from all over the state to meet with Senators, Representatives and staff from both the legislative and executive branches. We met with a number of elected officials and their staff to discuss the most important issues up for consideration this session.

When properly executed, lobby day can be an incredibly effective tool for influencing public policy and building the public profile of an organization.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!

Preparation is the key to a successful lobby day. This begins by deciding who will be attending. As a general rule, the more people you can bring the better. Fifty professionals advocating for a policy or position will make a stronger impression than 20 will.

That being said, there is a point of diminishing returns. What I mean is that you want to bring as many people as possible, as long as those people are polished, professional and articulate. Don’t bring ten extra people just to bulk up your numbers if they will embarrass or reflect poorly upon your organization. Quality matters just as much as quantity here.

Protocol Training

Training all lobby day attendees is a crucial piece of this process. This year, the OCA political affairs team hosted a mandatory two-hour training session about a week in advance. Meetings with legislators generally follow some pretty specific guidelines as far as etiquette and protocol. It will make your organization seem much more professional if lobby day participants are familiar with the way things are typically done.

In addition to the basics of lobby day protocol, the training should also offer tips on how to lobby with maximum effectiveness. For example, it is incredibly important to stay on message at all times. Make sure you have a strong, clear ask. Leave no room for doubt as to what solutions you seek.

Don’t just tell lawmakers what you want, offer some input on how to get there; and know the positions and arguments of your opposition. That way if a lawmaker brings up a counter-argument, you will be prepared with a response.

Schedule and Research

Once you have your roster of attendees (and a plan in place to train them), the next step is to set your itinerary. Try to match participants with their own Senator and/or Representative. Elected officials pay the greatest attention to the folks who can vote for them. You may also schedule people to meet with lawmakers who represent the district where their business is located.

This makes geographic diversity important within your group. The goal is to include people from as many legislative districts as possible as this will allow you to meet with the greatest number of legislators.

Once the meeting schedule is set, each participant should do some additional background research on the lawmakers on their calendar. Learn as much as you can about their positions on your issues.

Do they support your position? If so, you want to thank them and emphasize the points that they value or agree with. If not, find out as much as you can about why they oppose. You should also learn what matters to them.  That will allow you to custom tailor the most effective possible arguments in favor of your position for each individual legislator.

Focus On Your Issues

With your team identified and prepared and the schedule set, turn your focus to content. Legislators are busy and your meeting will likely be 15 to 30 minutes. This is nowhere near enough time to address every concern that you or your organization might have, so you will need be both strategic and thoughtful about choosing your issues.

Relevance remains the primary criterion for deciding what issues to discuss with lawmakers. For an in-session lobby day like the OCA’s, start by identifying the issues that are up for consideration during the session. You can do this by looking at all pending legislation relating to cannabis. If your organization has a government affairs team, they can let you know if other bills covering other issues may be introduced later.

Strategically Focus

Narrow this list down to the two or three most important issues. Most organizations involved in advocacy and lobbying identify legislative priorities before the session begins. If your organization is sponsoring or supporting a particular piece of legislation, you’ll probably want to address that bill.

For this year’s OCA lobby day, we focused on three topics:

  1. The legislature is considering to allow public consumption of cannabis, something we support.
  2. Local governments can currently charge a 3% tax on all retail (non-medical) sales of cannabis.
  3. A pending bill would increase that maximum tax, which the OCA opposes.

Oregon is currently looking at a few different bills to consolidate the medical and recreational systems. The OCA believes that with so much uncertainty around federal enforcement and the real possibility of a federal crackdown on recreational but not medical cannabis, the time is not right for such a dramatic change. Adding another drastic regulatory upheaval to our near future will also make it incredibly difficult for Oregon businesses to raise capital and continue to operate profitably.

Ready for D-Day

If you do your homework, your team will be ready when lobby day arrives. Remember to dress and behave professionally. This will go a long way in helping you advance your agenda. Make sure to let the lawmaker know who in your group is a constituent.

Be polite and respectful, but remember that this is a real conversation with a real person. You can assign a member of each group to act as a facilitator tasked with gently steering the conversation back on topic if it strays.

It can also be helpful to bring some printed materials for legislators. A brief document describing your organization, along with your positions on your key issues can be a useful reference both during and after the meeting. Bring copies for staff as they can be as important as any player in this process.

I mentioned above to make sure you come prepared with a strong ask. Get that out on the table before the meeting ends. You may be asking for an affirmation of support, a confirmation of past support, or a specific action. Whatever the ask, be clear, confident and persistent where necessary. Whatever their response, offer to follow up and to keep the lawmaker and her office up to speed as events unfold.

Most industries have well established laws, rules and industry norms. This is not the case for cannabis. The legal industry is so new, and the progress is happening so rapidly, that it often feels like we’re building the car while we’re driving it.

This creates tremendous opportunities for those of us involved in this fledgling industry to have a significant influence on how it operates for many years to come. The individuals, businesses and organizations that can most effectively navigate the political process will have the greatest success in this endeavor.

A lobby day is a powerful tool for those who are interested in advocating for a particular policy, law or rule. If you prepare your team, stay focused and on message, and make a professional presentation, you can use a lobby day to effectively advance your policy goals.

Matt WalstatterMatt Walstatter

Matt Walstatter

Matt Walstatter and his wife, Meghan, are the owners of Pure Green, a patient owned and operated dispensary in Portland, Oregon. They have jointly owned and operated cultivation centers since 2001. Their dispensary opened in 2013. Matt can be reached at (971) 242-8561 or [email protected]

This Post Has One Comment
  1. What a great game plan for being effective for your cause. Your emphasis on staying on track with your agenda and issue, as well as what to do should things go off track, is awesome. Fantastic article!

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